J.R.R. Tolkien famously loved nature, and that passion seeps into his creation of Middle-earth. To him, the great outdoors was not something to be taken for granted but a vast realm to be admired, explored, and cherished. Is it any wonder that Lord of the Rings Online places such a great emphasis on natural, realistic-feeling environments?
Northern Mirkwood (Eryn Lasgalen)
Given just how vast and expansive Mirkwood is on the Middle-earth map, I say the fact that we only had a small sliver of it for the longest time felt like an oversight. Well, consider that oversight corrected with the addition to the northern section of the forest — what I like to think of as “Bilbo’s Mirkwood.”
Unlike its southern counterpart, Eryn Lasgalen is not an easy place to navigate. It’s very dark, claustrophobic, and cluttered with deadly streams, impassable rock walls, and (of course) spider nests. Atmospherically, it’s amazing, especially if you want to soak up some Hobbit lore and quotes. But if you want to try to blitz through it quickly, then good luck. There are only two milestones and far too much tangled wilderness for my liking.
On the plus side, there are a few beautiful spots that get some decent lighting.
Eaves of Fangorn
Heading over to Rohan, we encounter the almost-as-dark Fangorn forest. The major feature here are some really twisted and evil-looking huorns that want you pulverized. It’s quite the moody forest indeed with no paths or milestones, but fortunately the ground is pretty level, and the trees don’t block you overly much.
My main complaint here is that the map is pretty much useless in pointing out any identifying landmarks or routes. There is a hilltop that is worth visiting because it takes you up above the treetops and gives you a breathtaking view, but that’s about it. It’s a great fanservice location from the books that’s underutilized in questing and tourism.
Bree-land boasts three forests in this list, and of the three, I think the least of the Wildwood. It’s not a terrible addition, just not a notable one. It’s generally pleasant wide-spread trees, a few settlements, a handful of ruins, and nothing we haven’t seen plenty before. My blood does boil with the insanely high slayer deed requirements here, but other than that, my interest in this place usually evaporates the second I leave it.
The Old Forest
Ah, the Old Forest. This place conjured up so many complaints that it ended up bonding all of us veterans together, especially those who had to navigate this maze-like area without the benefit of an in-game map. It’s better with the map and familiarity, for sure, and has a number of interesting locations such as Goldberry’s pond, Old Man Willow, and Tom Bombadil’s house.
Yes, it’s kind of annoying to do, especially if you get turned around, but I can’t work up any serious animosity against the Old Forest. I think it’s one of the more iconic places in LOTRO and fits so well into the larger Bree-land map.
OK, I definitely have a soft spot for Chetwood, Bree-land’s third forest here. It’s the most mild forest in the game, with absolutely no navigation hazards, low-level threats, and some easy quests to complete. I do like how it visually takes you away from the more settled areas and shows you what Bree-land looked like back when nature was more predominant. It’s pretty and cozy and an essential part of the early questing experience for humans.
Nestled side-by-side with Fangorn, the Entwood is its own forest thematically. For starters, it’s less ghastly and far more striking, featuring a sort of old-growth English countryside look. I like the Spanish moss, burbling brooks, and even paths (be still my beating heart!).
Unfortunately, it’s one of the least-traveled forests in the game thanks to its out-of-the-way location and dearth of quests that touch upon it. Still, it’s very worth visiting for a leisurely tour.
The star of the Siege of Mirkwood expansion, this plus-sized zone remains one of my favorites in the game to date. I love the diversity of areas within the zone, the pseudo-horror tone, and the way it eventually drives you right up to the walls of Sauron’s old fortress. I do wish that it got connected with other areas in the game; as it stands, Southern Mirkwood is cut off save for an instanced boat travel.
After the depths of Moria, it was a welcome sight to come out into one of the most beautiful fictional forests that most players have ever seen. With white tree trunks and golden boughs overhead, this forest is about as welcoming and peaceful as they come. Sure, it’s pretty much one-note through-and-through, but if you dig that note, you’re going to enjoy the respite before heading into Mirkwood’s murky woods.
But my nomination for best forest of the game is probably one nobody ever thinks about, which is Balewood. Where is this, you might ask? Balewood is a relatively small forest located to the west of Wildermore. I’m a huge fan of it for two reasons. One, it’s Christmas Wonderland: The Zone, thanks to its ever-falling festivity of fluffy snowflakes upon frosted trees. Two, it strikes that perfect balance of tree density to make you feel like you’re getting lost in a real wood without having any real problem getting out of it again.